Brave students share their stories of campus sexual assaults

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Image courtesy of Alex Berger via Flickr

**This article includes graphic description of rape and sexual assualt. If you find any of this upsetting welfare support can be found through your college SCR welfare officers, or the Students Union

A recent investigation by SCAN has uncovered harrowing stories of sexual assault and rape on campus, and in a number of University and Union owned locations, including The Sugarhouse.

The stories told ranged from accounts of groping and verbal harassment in nightclubs, accounts of rape in the safety of their own bedroom, to the traumatic and unfruitful experience of reporting the incidents to the University.

Following the release of an anonymous survey on Facebook, SCAN received almost 50 responses in only 3 days. Providing participants with the space to detail their experience, the survey also asked if the incident occurred on campus or at University or Union owned locations, if the incident was reported, and if any resolutions were reached.

Ultimately, it was the heartbreaking confessions that were the hardest to read but highlight the extent of the incidents here at Lancaster University. One respondent recalled: “I felt disgusting, it made me question whether I should wear the type of clothing I do”, a similar sentiment to a second woman who wrote, “I felt really dirty the next day and felt like it was my fault”, while a third participant stated, “I felt trapped, ashamed, and disgusted at myself, while also angry at them.”

Despite some of the survey responses detailing incidents that had happened years ago, one woman commented, “this still affects me now, and causes me to panic in certain situations” while a second admitted, “I still harbour guilt about this situation”.

At least 11 of the responses to the survey specified that the incident had happened in or on the premises of The Sugarhouse whilst many did not specify which University or Union owned location the incident occurred.  

While one female student reported “numerous mild to moderate sexual assault” incidents at The Sugarhouse, another woman detailed being “pinned against the alleyway wall outside Sugar” by a male student before someone was able to pull the assailant off. A third woman also listed a number of incidents of inappropriate touching at nightclubs in Lancaster stating, “having alcohol in your system doesn’t make you immune to people feeling and touching your body without your permission. That makes you feel uncomfortable.”

One woman recalled being raped outside her home after walking back from The Sugarhouse one night, the rapist someone she knew. She did not report the incident.

Respondents also shared experiences of being sexually assaulted in their own homes, a place closely identified with safety. One woman bravely shared her experience with a male friend following a night out: “After both having a few drinks, he kissed me which I was fine with. After the night progressed I was shattered and wanted to go to bed. He’s on top of me and keeps trying to kiss me when I’ve stopped reciprocating, I was now really drunk. Me protesting was in the form of repeating ‘we shouldn’t, we shouldn’t’ and held firmly onto the hem of my shorts as he tried to pull them down. Later in the night i woke up to him fingering me down my shorts which I just silently let happen.”

A female member of the University described waking up after a male friend had returned from a night out, climbed into bed with her, and started to grope her. She recalls, “he was groping me, I don’t know how long for before I woke up, he had one hand under my top, the other down my pyjama trousers”. When she asked what he was doing, he replied, “‘it wasn’t meant like that’”.

The accounts were not limited to night-time club atmospheres though; a mature student shared her experience of being propositioned by a male who “liked older women.” While working alone, he “offered foot and back massages, invaded my personal space, and was physically intimidating”. Similarly, another woman detailed her experience of sexual harassment whilst she was doing her laundry. She said that a male student, who was also in the laundry room at the time, “said in a sleazy way, ‘nice panties you have on there’” but quickly left once she went to report him to the Porter.

Although the majority of the respondents were women, three male students also shared their experiences of sexual assault. After inviting a course mate to his room to study, one man told of how “she put her hand down my trousers without my permission”.

When asked if the incidents were reported, 73.5% of the respondents replied ‘No’, their reasons varying from embarrassment to one student declaring, “unfortunately this is considered a normal thing to happen at university and ‘not worth reporting’”, a sentiment that seems to be widely held amongst the respondents. Of the few that did report the assault, none of respondents said a resolution had been achieved and 37.5% stated not enough was done in an effort to gain a resolution.

After reporting a rape by a fellow student to the University, a student recalls it was a “long ridiculous process” with a lack of “adequate welfare support” made available and “unhelpful accusatory questions”. They “eventually complained about a lack of a resolution” and expressed that their friends were far more helpful and supportive.

Similarly, on a night out in The Sugarhouse, a female student detailed having her chest groped by a male stood behind her at the bar who then “turned and high fived a guy next to him, jeering”. Reporting the incident to the bouncers “who didn’t seem particularly bothered and said ‘there’s not much we can do’ ”, she pressed the issue and mentioned she had been stood near a CCTV camera when the groping had occurred. Despite assuring her “they would review the footage and get in touch”, she never heard anything.

Another female respondent shared the traumatic experience of trying to report an incident of sexual assault outside The Sugarhouse. The student said she had to tell multiple people of the incident, including tutors, course coordinators and office staff, to be granted mitigating circumstances. She was critical of the reporting process and lack of information surrounding how to report incidents of rape or sexual assault, saying: “this in itself was a very upsetting and uncomfortable process and I’m sure others would appreciate a better way to go about this”.

A culture of victim-blaming has made it harder for survivors to speak out. One contributor stated, “I will never report this incident as I know I’m still in denial about it” while another revealed, “it is this blurred line of it being alcohol fuelled which has always prevented me coming forwards”.

One student believes we need to stop blaming victims for their own attacks, adding “I think views like this are where society is going wrong”. The student had detailed in the survey how in response to being raped by her boyfriend, “people used to tell me that if I hadn’t been wearing that dress he wouldn’t have been able to do it as easily“.

SCAN received comments from both the University and Students’ Union in regards to the reporting process and support in place for anyone who has experienced sexual harassment, assault or rape.

David Whitlock, VP Welfare and Community, told SCAN “we have taken a number of actions to combat [sexual misconduct], including delivering sexual consent training, providing information and guidance online and in print, and by working with the university to create the Unisafe app accessed via iLancaster.”

“From next year, following a successful funding bid, we will be providing training in bystander intervention for our student leaders. Bystander Intervention empowers students in how to take control of situations where they see harassment taking place.”

He continued: “It’s disappointing to hear that students have reported incidents of sexual harassment and assault at our Sugarhouse nightclub. Staff at the club are trained to respond to a full range of situations, from inappropriate gestures to serious assaults and we work hard to ensure our staff are as approachable and understanding as possible when these situations occur.”

A University spokesperson told SCAN “thankfully incidents of sexual assault on our campus are rare and we have a safe and secure environment. We also have a strong support network for students centrally within the university and in the Colleges.” The accounts that SCAN has received, however, do not seem to support this statement as none of the respondents felt a resolution had been reached.

In response to the nature of reporting the incidents, the University replied “It is the personal choice of students whether to submit information to their departments for mitigation. If a student informs the University and is supported by our Counselling and Mental Health team, the CMHT can provide supporting evidence which can be anonymised.  If a student does not disclose to the University, then they would have to provide separate evidence to their department for mitigation purposes.”

In agreement with the Union on bystander intervention training and the UniSafe app, the University added “These initiatives will hopefully improve overall safety on campus and promote a culture where individuals feel empowered to intervene safely if they see sexism or any other type of unacceptable activity.”

According to The Telegraph, a third of female students in the UK have experienced inappropriate touching, while the Crime Survey of England and Wales found 1 in 5 women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual violence.

Unfortunately, incidents can and do escalate past the point of groping. Approximately 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator, contrary to the perpetuated myth that rapists are strangers who hide in dark alleyways.  

Our University campus is an environment we create, influence and shape, and one we can ultimately change. Currently, victims’ voices are being repressed, our fellow students smothered into submission. The brave participants of this survey have started a conversation, but it is just a glimpse of the problem that exists.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek help by calling Rape Crisis England and Wales on 0808 802 9999. For more resources on sexual assault, visit The Birchall Trust.

Alternatively, you can report any experience of sexual assault through the UniSafe app available on iLancaster.

If you would like to contribute a response to the survey then please click on the following link: https://lancasteruni.eu.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_ahmRaUJvSczCYBL&Q_JFE=0